Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Here is my red line ...

      My mother spent 25 years talking publicly -- and privately -- about the Holocaust, and warning how anti-Semitism and bigotry is still out there and can rise again.
       And here we are.
       Thinking of my mother and father, who were Holocaust survivors and who lost practically their entire families at the hands, guns and gas chambers of the Nazis ...
       Miss them, but glad they are not here for these times and this President.
       I have written about my parents' lives and about their Holocaust experiences, and about some of their friends ... because it is part of my history, my family's history.
       I cannot, and will not, be silent on Charlottesville and the aftermath. The President's at-first weak and then defiant response is unacceptable.
       You don't agree, you can "unfriend" on Facebook or "unfollow" me, or tell me to you want off my e-mail list. Fine. I don't care.
       I have waited to express that, even with criticism from old (and not-so-old) friends after my two political-type posts last year. One of those posts was a defense of the media, and my view that "fake news" references are propaganda from a candidate/President who relies almost daily on targeting someone or some entity.
       But if you can find a defense for this, for his "many sides" BS, for any kind of "out" for the white supremacy, Nazi-KKK-alt right creeps -- and I could use much more colorful descriptions, I don't need you. 
       That goes for anyone, friends from 60 years ago, whatever. This is my parting shot.
       Don't want to get too deep into politics and social issues because it hisses off so many people. I understand the difference between conservative viewpoints and liberal ones, and most of you know where I lean. But I don't lean as much as some of my friends and family.
       But this issue, the current uprising of these Nazis and KKK hoodlums, and their "leaders" whose faces and voices we see and hear too much, the torches burning in the night, the violence erupting (and the prospect of much more), no thanks.
       Just as so many of you were critical of the previous President and the losing Presidential candidate, this President can be criticized every minute of every day. I don't have time or space, except to say I trust the media people we watch a helluva lot more. They are articulate -- and he's not.
       They are articulate -- and he's not. (Just repeating, as he does with almost every sentence he likes.)
       That statement he read Saturday was a joke. Obviously someone wrote for him, as they write almost everything for him these days -- and when he goes off-script, that's when he begins hammering anyone he thinks he needs to hammer (including his Cabinet members and his Republican "friends" in Congress).
       Guarantee you he's never said the word "egregious" before in his life.
       He read that statement Saturday, and the one Tuesday, without any real meaning, without conviction, without empathy. But with plenty of fire and fury when admonishing the media and interrupting -- "excuse me, excuse me ... I'm not finished."
       His rudeness, just as in the debates and the campaign, is overwhelming. His supporters love it; he's "being tough." That is a bunch of bull. His indecency is well-publicized, and it matters not to so many. 
       I much prefer a President who shows class -- whether you agree with him or not -- and can empathize and sympathize. This hate- and fear-mongering bully has none.
       I had a friend tell me several weeks ago, "Anyone who criticizes the President is a bad person."
       Unbelievable. Yes, the office of the President should be respected. But the person in the office should earn that respect. So many refused to give that to the last President.
       You could disagree with his policies and the tone of the country, again I understand. But he was -- my opinion -- not abusive. Nor were Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush.
       As for the statues honoring the South's Civil War heroes, I don't have a strong opinion. They honor a history, but if they are offensive to African-Americans -- whose  ancestors were the slaves of so many, including our Presidents and the South's war heroes -- you should understand. 
       Same for the Confederate flag.
       Same for KKK hoods and torches.  
       Same for us, the Nazi flag and Nazi gear and Nazi propaganda, and -- heaven forbid -- Nazi statues. Same for KKK hoods and torches.  
       Much of the past should be the past, not the present.
       So, as I posted on Facebook, here are links to re-posts by a couple of journalist friends I respect. 
       From Bob Mann, former Shreveport Journal writer political analyst/teacher in Baton Rouge, on the synagogue in Charlottesville:
       From Evan Grant -- Jewish, a late 1980s Shreveport Times sportswriter en route to covering the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News:
       So there you have it. We are always aware of the Nazi/KKK/alt-right/white supremacists history and the Nazi/KKK/alt-right/white supremacists ways. My mother knew, and she spoke.
       During the Presidential campaign, Mr. Trump was slow to disavow David Duke's "endorsement" and -- again -- finally did disavow, after prodding, without much conviction. He's hired alt-right, Nazi sympathizers for his White House staff.
       It was predictable, to me, during the Presidential campaign and the white supremacists' obvious delight with this candidacy -- and again now, with their gleeful response to his Tuesday outburst and blame on the "alt-left," that their protests and violence was not far away. I'm surprised it took six months.
       They now have been emboldened and empowered, and what about those neo-Nazis in Europe seeing this?
       We don't accept the "many sides" drivel, we do not accept the "we want to take our country back" crap, we do not accept so much of what this President stands for and, even more, what he says.
       This is beyond politics. It's bigotry and hatred. You don't like what I'm saying, good-bye.       

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another Holocaust/book update: Mom's friend Hilde

         Hilde Kratzenstein Meier, a Holocaust survivor who we knew as Hilde Cohen, rarely talked about her days in World War II.
       Too painful, too sad.
       In the photo of my mother and her "camp sisters" -- the group of Auschwitz and other concentration-camp survivors -- the woman behind Mom (bottom left) is Hilde.
      She has her right hand on my mother's right shoulder. For the next 60 years, they were connected.
      She soon would become Hilde Cohen, marrying Jacob "Jaap" Cohen, a man with two sons. They all somehow survived those early 1940s World War II years, each with their own story.
      They are stories of family losses, separation, intrigue (hidden survivors), imprisonment, reunion ... and a new start with a new family.
      Hilde and Jaap each lost their first spouses and much of their families in the war years. Each was a native of Germany, and separately, left that country in 1933 to move to The Netherlands and escape Hitler's early reign of terror.
      Rob Cohen, the son born in 1949 to Hilde and Jaap, provided much of the information for this blog piece. He lives, as he always has, in The Netherlands.
      As Rob wrote to me and my sister Elsa a few months ago after reading the book about my parents and our family -- Survivors: 62511, 70726 -- Hilde was unlike my mother in this way: She preferred not to talk about the Holocaust experience. 
      "It took me some time to read the book," Rob wrote. "For obvious reasons. ... Especially the part of your mother during the war. It is, of course, also the story of my mother.
      "But contrary to your mother, my mother was not able to speak (much) about her experiences, mainly because of the loss of her mother, father, sister, brother and husband.
      "And because of her own character. So, for those reasons, she was not able to have much contact with your mother, but I can assure you that she loved her dearly."
      Rob did note one major correction:
      "My mother is mentioned in the book as Hilda Meier Kretsenstein. But her exact name is Hilde Kratzenstein."
      (Let's say that my mother's memory and notes were a bit faulty, and so was my lack of research.)
      The "camp sisters" photo likely was made in summer 1945, some months after the end of their imprisonment at Auschwitz, in the infamous women's Block 10 (and the gruesome medical experiments by the Nazis), and after their weeks-long "Death March" through Poland in the brutal winter cold of January 1945.
      By the time of the photo, they had recovered some health, had been given the hand-me-down uniforms they are wearing, and were waiting to find a way to return to The Netherlands.
      When Hilde returned, she soon reunited with Jaap Cohen. And Jaap had reunited with his two sons.
      Jaap was born in Ochtrup, Germany, on May 16, 1907;  Hilde was born in Schüttorf, Germany, on Feb. 5, 1919. So, Jaap was 12 years older than my father, Louis Van Thyn, and Hilde was five months older than Dad. Mom (Rose Van Thyn) was two years younger than Hilde and Dad.
      In 1940, Hilde married Otto Meier, who lived in Enschede, The Netherlands. It was in Enschede where she and Jaap first met, as working companions -- as Rob notes -- "at Meijer Clothing Shop. My father was a window dresser, my mother a saleswoman."
      Hilde, like my mother, was "picked up" by the Nazis in 1943 and eventually transported by cattle-car train to Auschwitz. Otto died in a concentration camp.
      Jaap Cohen, Rob said, "was a survivor, but not from the camps. He was hidden in Utrecht with the Van de Dorpe family (mother and two daughters, all three teachers) together with his wife Sophia (Fietje, she was called) de Lange.

      At first, their oldest son (Harry, born in 1940) was with them. But for safekeeping, he then was hidden in several places in Friesland, up north in The Netherlands, then and now the most sparsely populated, most rural -- mostly farms with cattle and crops -- province in the country.
      Harry was never betrayed, never discovered in hiding by the Nazis. He was too young to remember where he was hidden. 
      The younger son, Jaques/called Jack, was born in a Utrecht hospital in 1943. Details are sparse, but the mother -- as the boys were told -- died in that time frame, perhaps in childbirth. Jaap remained in hiding.
       This is for certain: The occupying Nazis immediately took the baby and he was sent to the Theresienstadt camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
      Here, from the encyclopedia on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum web site and other sources, is information on what is described as a "model" camp -- a stopoff for many Jewish prisoners, but also one where the arts were emphasized and were children of age attended an unofficial school.
       Some 140,000 Jews from all over Europe were sent to Theresienstadt; some 90,000 were transported onto Auschwitz and other death camps; some 30,000 died there from starvation or illness; and the number of children was estimated at 15,000.
       Only 10 percent of those children -- an estimated 1,500 -- survived the war. One of those was Jack Cohen.
       Maybe he was among the 1,200 Dutch Jews which a group in Switzerland -- the neutral country untouched (almost unbelievably) by the Nazis -- ransomed from the SS in exchange for millions of dollars. But maybe Jack and others were in the camp when the Russian Red Army liberated it and the International Red Cross moved in to care for the survivors.  
       What Rob Cohen and his brothers knew was that Harry and Jack wound up together -- and Jaap found them.
       "After the war all children (without relatives) were brought to the Berg Stichting Foundation in Laren (a town in North Holland)," Rob wrote, "where my father found them again and brought them with him to Enschede."
        That foundation, begun in 1909, was a shelter for Jewish children, many of them orphans. But the Cohen brothers, by now 5 and 2, were not orphans. They were survivors.
       By then Hilde was in Enschede, too. She and Jaap met again, and married on March 27, 1947. Rose and Louis had been married five months earlier.
       The Cohens soon moved.
        "A brother of my father had a clothing shop in Hilversum," Rob wrote, "but as he also didn't return after the war, my father got the chance to take over this shop in 1947."
        Hilversum is where Rob was born some 2 1/2 years later.
The Cohen family, 1950, in Hilversum, The Netherlands
     And Hilversum -- 16 miles southeast of Amsterdam and longtime base of the Dutch national radio and television networks -- is where I remember the Cohen family from visits there with my parents in the early 1950s. Rose went to see Hilde, Louis became friends with Jaap, and Elsa and I were along for the trips.
      Elsa, too young then to remember our visits, recalled her 1963 trip to The Netherlands with Mom -- their first time back after we left late in 1955 -- and told Rob, "I have such a clear memory of Jackie and his motorcycle. ... Remember how nice he was and actually took me for a ride. As a 12-year-old girl, I remember him being so handsome ."
     Elsa returned for visits with our parents in 1972 and 1975 and also told Rob that we had a home movie of him diving into the water near their lakehouse in Loosdrecht.
      "I have such wonderful memories of your family," Elsa wrote.
Frouke van Eijk and Rob Cohen
      Rob now lives in Almere, which is 14 miles almost straight east from Amsterdam -- although that straight line goes across the Ijmeer lake.
     For many years, Rob was a tax advisor ("still working a bit") and an active soldier in the Dutch National Guard. He retired in 2009 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
      Married in 1970 to Gisela Bässler (a German native, not Jewish), they have two children -- Claudia (1972), who is married and lives in Jerusalem (where she became an Orthodox Jew) and Peter (1975), a divorced father with two sons who has another son with a new partner and lives in Woerden, The Netherlands.
     Gisela died of a stroke on Dec. 31, 2006, at age 60.
     Since September 2009, Rob has lived with Froukje van Eijk in Almere.
     Brother Jack died of cancer on May 6, 2003. Harry lives alone in Sweden and, says Rob, "is doing well."

Jaap and Hilde, 1973
     Jaap Cohen died of cancer on July 23 1979, and soon after that, Hilde -- now alone -- moved to  Benidorm,  Spain, where she lived the last 25 years of her life.
     She died on March 11,  2006 -- so some 2 1/2 years before Dad and four years after Mom.
     She left Rob a memorable keepsake.
     It is a symbol of the great care the United States soldiers gave to Mom, Hilde and the other concentration-camp survivors in Poland in the spring of 1945.
      "Attached I send you," Rob wrote in an e-mail, "the emblem of the 69th Infantry Division, which my mother got for her memory from the American captain and which she always kept in her wallet.
      "I am proud to have it now  because it symbolizes the great gratitude we feel to our brave liberators."
       Rob's lasting memory of his mother and her Holocaust experience is "she did not want to talk about the history. It made her sick. So that is the reason she did not stay in touch with your parents and anyone else from her past."